WSU among schools facing sex abuse investigation

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Washington State University Vancouver is not being investigated, said Brenda Alling, WSU Vancouver spokeswoman.

"So far the review has been Pullman only," Alling said.

SPOKANE — Washington State University and the University of Idaho are among 55 colleges facing a Title IX investigation over their handling of sexual abuse complaints, the U.S. Education Department said Thursday.

The department’s Office of Civil Rights notified WSU in January 2013 about a complaint alleging the university failed to adequately respond to sexual harassment reports, University officials said. Those included incidents of sexual assault.

Details of the complaint were not available.

“There has been no finding of any wrongdoing on the part of WSU,” the Pullman-based university said in a press release.

WSU officials said they contacted the civil rights office after receiving the complaint and asked to participate in the agency’s “voluntary resolution” process, meaning the university would work with the agency to make improvements in policies and practices.

Since that time, WSU has been cooperating with the office to provide information, the school said.

In February, agency representatives visited the campus, conducting sessions with student focus groups, interviews with employees and open forums for students to meet with representatives.

“WSU takes its Title IX obligations very seriously and does not tolerate any form of sexual harassment, sexual assault, or other sexual misconduct,” the school said.

The University of Idaho, located 8 miles east of Pullman in Moscow, said it was notified in April 2013 of a complaint filed in March 2013 alleging that the school failed to adequately respond to a complaint of sexual harassment and failed to provide a prompt and effective grievance procedure.

The school said in a news release that it has cooperated fully with OCR, including providing requested information and facilitating OCR’s Moscow campus visit.

“Student health, welfare and safety is our No. 1 priority,” said Bruce Pitman, dean of students. “The UI takes all complaints of assault very seriously and remains intolerant of sexual harassment, sexual assault or and other sexual misconduct.”

Idaho’s press release said the university believes it fully complies with Title IX.

Title IX prohibits gender discrimination at schools that receive federal funds. It is the same law that guarantees girls equal access to sports, but it also regulates institutions’ handling of sexual violence and increasingly is being used by victims who say their schools failed to protect them.

“While we believe our complaint procedures, policies, and practices fully comply with the law, we look forward to working with OCR to make any needed improvements,” the school said of the Office of Civil Rights.

Nationally, the names of the 55 schools were released two days after a White House task force promised greater government transparency on sexual assault in higher education. Going forward, the Education Department said it will keep an updated list of schools facing such an investigation and make it available upon request.

The department previously would confirm such an investigation when asked, but students and others were often unaware of them.

Catherine E. Lhamon, the department’s assistant secretary for civil rights, said a school’s appearance on the list does not mean that it has violated the law but that an investigation is ongoing.

Citing research, the White House has said that one in five female students is assaulted. President Barack Obama appointed a task force of his Cabinet members to review the issue after hearing complaints about the poor treatment of campus rape victims and the hidden nature of such crimes.

The department can withhold federal funding from a school that doesn’t comply with the law, but it so far has not used that power and instead has negotiated voluntary resolutions for violators.